Since when did Halloween have to get so realistic? Why can’t we go back to the days when Halloween was nothing more than an excuse to wear my Darth Vader costume and inhale pounds of KitKats? And I know I sound like those grandmas you see in sitcoms that denounce anything kids do, but I’ll tell you the truth: This time of year is not my favorite.
For the past two years or so, October has consisted of me dodging repeated requests from my friends to go to one of the ultra-popular local “haunted” attractions that draw hordes of people every year.
“It’s fun!” they tell me. “It’s not even that bad!” they say. But every time I go, I just end up getting the willies and waiting outside. It’s embarrassing beyond belief. So why do people like these houses of horrors? Why do people go to a place to be scared, on purpose? I feel like it’s my duty as a reporter to find out, and maybe I can tell my friends I’m too busy to go while I find out. Win-win!
When you first walk in, you enter a large, dark plaza, if you will, with huge lines extending from several different houses. Each house consists of long, winding corridors of scare after scare after scare. Science experiments gone wrong, bloody chains and “dead bodies” line the walls while “actors” (as they call them in the biz) pop out from every dark corner, and always when you least expect it. Your only guide is the sound of people screaming ahead of you, and your only relief from the attack on your senses is the emergency exit (conveniently located right before the biggest scare).
Besides the whole getting-scared-out-of-your mind part, there is a (in my opinion, equally scary) social facet to going to these attractions.
It’s half the fun of going, said Williamsville East freshman Bre Pelonero. “You don’t even have to be scared. It’s like a social event,” she said.
True, but the chain saw guy is still pretty scary, so I’ll stick to socializing on the Internet.
Even if your main objective in going to a fright-filled fantasy land is just to socialize, you can’t get around going into the houses. Eventually, all of your more courageous friends will push you in the direction of a house, and the lady working the line (the very, very long line) will stamp your ticket, and before you know it you’ll be hyperventilating from fear. Insane clowns, burn victims out for revenge, deranged families in the woods and psychopaths with chain saws chase you around every corner.
Why? Why would anyone subject themselves to this kind of torture?
“It’s funny,” said Williamsville East freshman Joanne Jacobi, “when you get chased out of the houses by the chain saw guys.”
It’s funny? Not the term I would use, but similar to what most people told me.
It’s fully submersive entertainment. It puts the “victim” right in the center of the action.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” Joanne said.
“In the case of people who are thrill seekers ... when they encounter something scary or bad, they’re going to have this endorphin rush,” said neuroscientist Ki Ann Goosens of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an article for the Boston Globe. “But there’s also a part of the brain that knows it’s not really a bad thing.’’
This whole theory of flirting with danger but realizing that there really is none seems to be why people enjoy the scare. It gives people a release from their modern, sheltered lives, without providing any real danger.
However, this brings up the question of what parks like this teach kids to do in a situation where there is actual danger, when they are actually scared. In real life, there is no emergency exit, no end of the tunnel. In real life, fear must be faced. In real life, you cannot expect fear to just leave you alone when you leave a room.
But, for me, at a haunted attraction, maybe I’m too scared to enter the room at all.
Sam J. Schatmeyer is a freshman at Williamsville East High School.